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Erik Gandini’s Videocracy: Undressing Silvio Berlusconi’s Bikini Clad Women

Erik Gandini‘s new film Videocracy depicts present day Italy as a country where there is little separation between media and government; Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the richest man in the country and owns over 90 percent of the broadcast media. This means that the television channels are state controlled in a country that purports to be a democracy, not a dictatorship.

In true Orwellian style, most broadcasts are issued directly from the state, including campaign commercials, which offer karaoke style sing-a-longs in praise of Berlusconi. In most democratic countries anti-monopoly laws would prevent such rampant abuse of power. However, as prime minister, Berlusconi has rendered himself immune from prosecution.

Despite its highly critical nature (and Berlusconi’s best efforts), the film has been a huge success throughout Italy and is now making its rounds on the film festival circuit. It screened this weekend at the Hamptons International Film Festival and played last night at IFC Center’s doc series, Stanger Than Fiction. If you live in Chicago you can catch it this weekend as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Along the way Videocracy has been drawing significant attention from documentary critics and mixed reviews. Hollywood Reporter called it, “A skillful compilation of archive footage describing contemporary Italy as a mirror of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s commercial television empire.” The Independent‘s take: “… what makes Videocracy fascinating viewing is the inside view it provides of the celebrity-obsessed world that Berlusconi has created around him.” Variety thought the film was best suited for TV: “Rather than presenting a well-argued expose of the disturbing symbiosis that exists between Italo politics and TV, with Prime Minister Berlusconi being only the most obvious connection, the scribe-helmer gets sidetracked by marginal characters while keeping bare facts to a minimum.”

Gandini told Indiewire‘s Brian Brooks, “It isn’t only [Berlusconi], what I’m really interested in here is how you can destroy a democracy by tits and ass. It’s shocking that the banality of culture can destroy a once mature and politically engaged populace.” He says that Berlusconi has created a culture where young women compete to fill the roles on television of what are called Veline, the Italian equivalent of a cross between music video booty girls and Wheel of Fortune‘s Vanna White. The doc depicts daily life as image obsessed and Italy as a place where young women only dream of becoming half-naked, silent, TV girls, who can make lots money, aspire to marry a soccer player, and even perhaps one day enter government. The current Minister of Gender Equality is a former TV girl.

Videocracy offers a timely reminder of what can happen when we allow the free press to erode. Fortunately(?) in our country, freedom doesn’t seem to be the problem — this is.

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